What to Know about the Amalfi Coast of Italy

The Amalfi Coast (Italian: Costiera amalfitana) is a stretch of coastline in southern Italy overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Gulf of Salerno. It is located south of the Sorrentine Peninsula and north of the Cilentan Coast.

Celebrated worldwide for its Mediterranean landscape and natural diversity, the Coast is named after the town of Amalfi, which makes up its main historical and political center. It is a very popular jet set destination, and has been an attraction to upper-class Europeans since the 18th century, when it was a frequent stopover on their Grand Tours. Attracting international tourists of all classes annually, the Amalfi Coast was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

Like the rest of the region, the Amalfi Coast has a Mediterranean climate, featuring warm summers and mild winters. It is located on the relatively steep southern shore of the Sorrentine Peninsula, leaving little room for rural and agricultural development. The only land route to the Amalfi Coast is the 25 mile long Amalfi Drive (Strada Statale 163) which runs along the coastline from the town of Vietri sul Mare in the east to Positano in the west. Thirteen municipalities are located on the Amalfi Coast, many of them centered on tourism. Buses and ferries run along the Amalfi Coast, as well as boat excursions from Positano and Amalfi.

Town of Amalfi as viewed from the sea

History of Amalfi the town

In the region of Campania, Italy, on the Gulf of Salerno, a short distance southeast of Naples is the town of Amalfi which lies at the mouth of a deep ravine at the foot of Monte Cerreto; it is surrounded by dramatic cliffs and coastal scenery. The Maritime Republic of Amalfi was an important trading power in the Mediterranean from the 9th – 12th centuries. In the 1920s and 1930s, the town was a popular holiday destination for the British upper class and aristocracy. Today it is an important tourist destination together with other towns along the same coast, such as Positano, Ravello and a few more and is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. As you will see, Amalfi’s Cathedral of St. Andrew has a historical background of who’s who after the Republic’s trading power subsided.

In medieval culture Amalfi was famous for its flourishing schools of law and mathematics. Flavio Gioia, who is traditionally considered the first to introduce the mariner’s compass to Europe, is said to have been a native of Amalfi. The town occupied a high position in medieval architecture; its cathedral of Sant’Andrea (St. Andrew, built in the 11 century), the campanile, the convent of the Cappuccini, founded by the Amalfitan Cardinal Pietro Capuano, richly represent the artistic movement prevailing in Southern Italy at the time of the Normans, with its tendency to blend the Byzantine style with the forms and sharp lines of the northern architecture.

Amalfi’s Cathedral of Sant’Andrea

At the top of the staircase, Saint Andrew’s Cathedral (Duomo) overlooks the Piazza Duomo, the heart of Amalfi. The cathedral dates to the 11th century; its interior is adorned in the late Baroque style with a nave and two aisles divided by 20 columns. The gold caisson ceiling has four large paintings by Andrea D’Aste. They depict the flagellation of Saint Andres, the miracle of Manna, the crucifixion of Saint Andrew and the Saint on the cross. From the nave there is a flight of stairs which leads to the crypt.

These stairs were built in 1203 for Cardinal Pietro Capuano, who brought St. Andrew’s remains to the cathedral in 1208 from Constantinople. The bronze statue of St. Andrew was sculpted by Michelangelo Naccherino, a pupil of Michelangelo; also present are Pietro Bernini Marble sculptures of St. Stephen and St. Lawrence. The cathedral contains a tomb in its crypt that it maintains still holds a portion of the relics of the apostle.

Amalfi today

The Amalfi coast is famed for its production of Limoncello liqueur and the area is a known cultivator of lemons. The correct name is “sfusato amalfitano”, and they are typically long and at least double the size of other lemons, with a thick and wrinkled skin and a sweet and juicy flesh without many pips. It is common to see lemons growing in the terraced gardens along the entire Amalfi coast between February and October. Amalfi is also a known maker of a hand-made thick paper which is called “bambagina”. It is exported to many European countries and to America and has been used throughout Italy for wedding invitations, visiting cards and elegant writing paper. The paper has a high quality and has been used by artists such as Guiseppe Leone.

Sorrento as viewed from the sea

Sorrento’s History

Sorrento’s history is connected to the ancient island of Lipari, originally colonized in 8 BC by Corinthians who, exploring the lands, later settled in neighboring Sorrento. With the arrival of Imperial Rome, Sorrento was allied to the Romans, and to this day, the city center bears testimony to the present of the Empire in the classically Roman layout of the streets. In the Middle Ages, Sorrento fell into the hands of the Goths and the Byzantines, but resisted and repelled the advances of the Lombards of Benevento despite a siege. Due to Sorrento’s proximity to the sea, however, it was often raided and sacked in the 1500’s by pirates and sailors from the harbor town of Pisa, which led to the construction of the numerous watchtowers along the coast.

Sorrento today

A resort today, Sorrento is a beautiful town. Even the souvenirs are a cut above the norm, with plenty of fine old shops selling the ceramics and lacework of its history.

Church in Sorrento

Topping the rocky cliffs close to the end of its peninsula, 15 miles south of Pompeii, Sorrento with its inspired location and mild climate has drawn foreigners from all over Europe for almost 200 years. Significant artists Ibsen, Wagner, Nietzsche, and Maxim Gorky lived there in their time. Nowadays, it’s strictly a tourist destination with the vigor and lively activity of its southern-Italian roots. Cheap restaurants aren’t too hard to find, nor reasonably priced accommodations and a lovely place outside Naples from which to explore the peninsula, including parts of the Amalfi Coast and the islands of the bay.

Sorrento and the Amalfi coast are well known for splendid, large lemons. Typical products in addition to the limoncello liqueur include lemon chocolate, colorful ceramic articles with lemon motifs and lemon soap.

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